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venting about middle school

I have heard too much distress from parents in the wind and now I just have to weigh in. It seems like so many people are unhappy about the fact that there are too few "good middle school options".

I have to ask. Do you mean schools with high test scores?
If you are clinging to the safety of high test scores, then you are empowering the tests and you will be supporting that culture; the stress, the prep, the high stakes and anxiety. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

If it is not high test scores, what makes a good school?
A passionate fiscal and educational leader in the principal, who surrounds herself with strong teachers who are 'bringing it' every day. Those schools are out there. They are not a dime a dozen but they absolutely exist.

I find that parents who have been pretty open minded about elementary school choices get VERY conservative about middle school. I know that you are afraid of sex, drugs and rock and roll (AND what you remember that your parents didn't know about what you did in middle school). Get over it.
I remember my lost MS years: my science lab partner trying to set the asbestos block on fire each day, running the guantlet of the "bad kids" (who smoked and kissed) by the stairs as I walked home every day and singing close harmony with my BEST FRIEND FOREVER (hi Heather!) in the girls bathroom. I had one of the best teachers that I would ever have (Ms. Crouch) for an honors Anthropology class that formed many of my life views. Also, one of the only times I remember my parents in school, to yell at the 8th grade guidance counselor (it was beautiful, man) who told me I was wasting my brain taking both music and art in 9th grade - I got to take the classes. I still remember the joys and humiliations like it was yesterday (not even mentioning getting my period for the first time, the nail polish incident, and the constant, non existent, fear that LSD would be put in my milk). No scarring though.

This is what you need at middle school (and remember it is 3 SHORT years):

  • They need to be safe (not some frightened suburbanite's fear of an "urban school" - or some free floating anxiety of bullying - your child can be tormented at the most popular, sought after school, just as well as they can at a school with kids from that other neighborhood).
  • They need to come out of it with their self esteem intact. Sometimes being a big fish in whatever size pond is very empowering!
  • They need to be surrounded by educators of integrity who are "bringing it".
  • And they need to be ready to hit the ground running at 9th grade (the real high stakes choice).

It is likely that this year is a tipping point year for those of you in D15. The numbers of high performing college bound students is reaching critical mass and you all will NOT get seats in 51, 447, 443, etc. There are other good schools out there, but they may not be the popular ones. You may not remember the olden days when 51 was the "only" choice. You are now standing on the backs parents and students before you who built the strenght of the "popular schools". It is your turn now. Sorry. Be brave. Step up.

Just in case you think, I haven't been there...

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    venting about middle school - my sidewalk chalk blog - nyc school help

Reader Comments (7)

Now that I have been grumpy with parents, it is time for me to be grumpy with the schools. Many of the schools tell you that you need to rank them first to get a seat. This is a self serving half truth, that makes the ability to truly rank schools by preference nearly impossible. Let me see what facts I can find for you. More on this soon!

October 18, 2014 | Registered Commenterjoyce

Update: I have gotten very kind and impressive positive feedback from parents about so many of those "other schools" - you know, the ones no one talks about (but should). There is interest and momentum building and that is good news for all students, parents AND educators. You go tweens!

October 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

Joyce - Please take a look at the difference in funding raised by the PTAs at the top 3 middle schools in D15 vs those "other" great middle schools in D15 and tell me that it's just about parents being "brave." Safety and quality educators are great but money matters a lot:

October 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteranon

Well said. I always ask people, What makes a school good. Is it the test scores? The school staff? or, Is it the upper middle class families that attend the school? District 15 is called the brownstone district. isn't it? Maybe we should go back to Zoned Schools. Oh we can't have that. District 15 would lose 1/2 it's population! Boo hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!

October 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterUnknown

Hi Anon,
PTA funds are definitely helpful to any school. I wish I knew what the funds were spent on to get an idea about how it impacted the students' experiences. All I can tell you is that my kids PTA had a $4000. budget and they had a spectacular experience none the less. They got into good high schools even though the school was unknown.

November 2, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoyce

Hi Joyce,
We've looked at a bunch of the up and comers this year and your note is right, the educational offerings are impressive at many. But I worry these schools have no current track record of getting kids into top high school (as they haven't had that high school bound population in the past.) How do you think high schools will evaluate the applicants from these schools they may not be familiar with or have a relationship (with versus the 51s and 447s which have city wide reputations and relationships among principals and guidance counselors already established?)

November 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGowanus Gus

For your consideration:
There are hundreds of middle schools and hundreds of high schools. There may be some recognition between schools, but these are public institutions and looking for good candidates from all middle schools. In fact, if I was a public high school school principal I would be looking for likely candidates from schools that are NOT the usual suspects, because I don't want to be known as taking from a "feeder" which may be antithetical to my mission. Sometimes, as a student, it is beneficial to be a big fish in a small pond. You get more attention than being a crowd.

If you know anything about the time constraints on public middle school guidance counselors (if your school even has a guidance counselor) the idea that they are able to advocate for your child to even a minimal degree is pretty unlikely. They are handling paperwork and trying to give accurate advice.

The specialized high schools (Stuy, Tech, Latin, etc.) take kids exclusively by test score - that's all. No school input at all.

In the end, all I can tell you is that when my kids graduated from Math and Science in the second graduating class, when NO ONE knew the school, many kids got great placements on their records, not because of the school they were attending.

November 14, 2014 | Registered Commenterjoyce

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